The farmer’s new friend could be good for everyone: super-precise drones

Read the full story in Fast Company.

When most urban people think of farming, it’s some amalgam of American Gothic, John Deere tractors, Walker Evans’s Dust Bowl photography, a ad, and a Levi’s commercial. That image is steadily being updated to include the operation of drones. As Modern Farmer notes, the future of farming may include “insanely precise drones” delivering the specific amount of fertilizer that a plant needs to thrive.

Now, a research team from Aarhus University in Denmark has come up with a way to pinpoint the precise nitrogen needs of individual plants by looking at the way light reflects off a plant’s leaves, which is pretty cool. Normally knowing how much nitrogen-based fertilizer a plant needs to grow is a delicate balance between producing leafy greens and, well, a bomb. Nitrogen fertilizer—used by organic and GMO farmers alike—can account for up to half the cost of running a farm, and, in excess quantities, can encourage non-native or invasive species, contaminate ground water sources, and damage soil. And new research indicates that increases in rainfall and extreme weather because of climate change will increase the amount of nitrogen polluting rivers and other waterways.

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